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PM Essence

Leadership Reflections

By - Chandan Pahuja, PMP

AnandSriGanesh
Anand Sri Ganesh
“Anand Sri Ganesh is presently the SVP of Strategy and new business at Manthan Systems – a provider of analytics products and solutions for the retail and consumer industries. At Manthan, he is responsible for the growth levers of the organisation and incubating new products. Ganesh has over 16 years of experience across technology and consumer industries in sales, marketing and business leadership roles. He is a post graduate in management from IIM Ahmedabad, and graduated in mechanical engineering from IIT, Madras.He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
A lot has been written about leadership. Professors, consultants, sociologists, theologists, politicians, sportsmen, army-men – all of them have a point of view on leadership styles and leadership impact. Yet we find a paucity of leadership around us – in business, in politics, in our daily lives. In my opinion, this is not as much because our leadership models are underevolved but more because leadership is an extremely personal trait. Fundamentally a leader is a human being, with all of the virtues and vices as any – ambition, intellect, greed, passion, envy. Every leader harnesses his virtues and vices – his predispositions – in responding to circumstances he is faced with; circumstances that could call for deep economic risks, moral dilemmas, or human impact.
A21 As a practicing and evolving leader, I have found two broad business situations where leadership traits are put to test. The first is when destination is know but the path is traumatic, and the second where the when one is navigating team and self through uncertainty. As an analogy, I would imagine the former as a general in a battlefield; and the latter to a captain navigating his ship through a hurricane. The former is more commonly observed in business – dealing with complex competitive situations, entering new markets or negotiating new partnerships. The latter is relatively less common – when firms go through dramatic changes because of industry shifts or organisational upheaval - although something one is seeing more and more often in the current economic environment and disruptions caused by technology.

Both circumstances call classical leadership traits to the fore, but I think they get harnessed in different orders of priority. Let me dwell on the former first. Strategy formulation and decisionmaking stand out front-and-centre; the need to identify choice points, and be willing to make commitments to the choices and see them
through.

Beyond analytical ability, the leader needs to demonstrate a willingness to take decisions through empirical evidence and build consensus with his teams, peers and influencers. The more complex the decisions the more difficult the process is for consensus-building. One of the big values a leader brings to the table is his ability to build networks within the company and beyond, and leverage his relationships for the benefit of his team. He thus brings in disproportionate resources to bear to accelerate his team's progress. The team expects the leader to instil a sense of stability through systems and structures. A successful leader will show persistence in the face of opposition to see his strategy through. His ability to communicate his vision strongly and inspire confidence in his team become critical to the success of the chosen path.

Let me share my experience as a follower in such a situation, when I found myself facing what I perceived to be Herculean challenges. My manager then was one who had a deep faith in my ability to walk alongside him as he led us through unprecedented accomplishments. He set high expectations, invested in my development, and cleared organisational obstacles to allow me to succeed. Such experiences can often be career defining.


Let me the contrast this with the characteristics of a leader confronted with the second scenario. There are times when organisations are faced with circumstances unforeseen, unfathomable. When industries and companies undergo a change that is unpredictable, very little of past experiences seem to matter in making sense of the present. These are often crises of confidence, when organisations go through a phase of redefinition.
Trust and respect become lynchpins for the leader. The team develops an intrinsic faith in the ability and intentions of the leader. Faced with a chaotic environment, the leader will rely heavily on symbolism to build faith and positivism within his team. The leader will find himself confronting self-doubt, instincts of self-preservation or even selfpromotion. A gifted leader will overcome the lure of the safety net and demonstrate his commitment to the cause. Teams will often not expect this of their leader, but if they suspect its presence, they will hitch their fortunes to the leader with unflinching loyalty. Celebrating success and failure alike become norms for such a leader as he battles attrition of talent and energy on the one hand, and stakes claim to his team's allegiance on the other. A22
To experience a leader who can navigate such trying circumstances is a rare gift. This is a leader one would follow blindly through the worst of terrains. Which brings me back to my original premise - I believe the leader is fundamentally an alloy of his virtues and vices, who brings them to bear in the circumstances he faces. So a passionate leader might behave very differently from an ambitious leader under the same circumstances; and woe befalls the team stuck with a leader who is self-servient.